MoL-2001-12: On the Turning Verbs into Nouns

MoL-2001-12: Hindsill, Darrin (2001) On the Turning Verbs into Nouns. [Report]

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This thesis began as something of an accident. While working on a
dramatically different topic, I was exposed to some rather odd
examples of nominalization from the 19 th century that were rather
confounding in their ungrammaticality. Idle curiosity got the better
of me, and I became obsessed with the desire to know exactly what had
happened, and how something that was almost painful to hear, was
perfectly normal up until even the early 20 th century, albeit
probably only as an archaism. This entailed spending day upon day at
the Bungehuis, combing through volumes upon volumes of data, doing
literary detective work, trying to find some sort of leads that would
magically explain the oddities I was encountering. Alas, this never
quite happened, but I believe that now a great deal of light has been
shed upon the subject, all the while bringing up perhaps as many
questions as answers, and giving me a newfound appreciation for
amazing variety and creativity in language use.

The topic of this thesis is an investigation into the diachronic
status of nominalization in English, specifically on the evolution of
the gerund, one of the most common forms used to express
nominalization. Chapter 1, the prologue, is merely a brief summary of
some basic syntactic and semantic facts about the gerund in Present
Day English. It is mainly a summary of established work, and is
included here to provide a jumping-off point and a stark contrast to
the historical situation presented in Chapter 2. This chapter begins
in the more murky realms of Old English, and traces the development of
the gerund from then on through to the modern area. This is, by
necessity, the densest of the chapters, and contains an overwhelming
amount of data and statistics. While a bit daunting, this amount of
data is necessary in order to get a feel for the language, especially
as much of it is now out of the realm of intuition for even a
contemporary, native speaker of English. And it is in this chapter
that we first see theories regarding the development of the gerund
theories that try to account for the split of a gerund into the verbal
and nominal versions that exist today. Houston (1989) seems to have
the most likely candidate for an explanation, but while fairly solid
on convincing statistical correlations and data, leaves the mechanism
for how the change could have occurred unexplained.

Chapter 3 may seem to be a bit of a diversion, as it leaves the past
and its hordes of diachronic data to examine the semantics of
nominalization, especially as it relates to the use of nominalization
in discourse. This is done largely informally and phenomenologically,
and any formal results are banished to the footnotes. This does not
indicate any anti-formal inclinations on my part, but rather the
nature of the task at hand. Ultimately, while interesting and
necessary for any explanation of the semantic phenomena, having to
deal in depth with complex formal theories was not necessary for my
purposes here. Instead, the semantic and pragmatic observation are
there to illustrate use in discourse, and help provide more of a
foundation to examine the semantic and discourse factors that may have
influenced the development of the gerund, as well as influenced the
rather drastic change in the history of its usage.

The final chapter is an attempt to put the earlier three chapters together, and look at language change in a broader framework. The beginning of the chapter, a look at a peculiar development in the progressive, while not directly related, is used to illustrate the numerous factors that need to be taken into account in order to explain language change. I have taken an account from Warner (1995) and attempted to flesh out some loose ends with detours into both socio-linguistics and pragmatics. After this, it is back to the evolution of the gerund, with one final detour into Cognitive or Constructive Grammar, as a possible way of giving a theoretical grounding and mechanism to Houston s intuitively appealing conjectures. Finally, we have a brief look at how the split into a verbal and nominal gerund affected the language, especially the way nominalization is used in Modern English.

As a final note, I would like to apologize for the density of the
paper. By necessity, examining language changes involves a number of
disparate areas. Interconnections are rife, and many of these are only
given a passing examination, and not elaborated in the depth that they
really deserve. My only defence in this is that to have examined
everything in the depth and length I would have liked, would have made
this already lengthy thesis even longer. With that said, on with the

Item Type: Report
Report Nr: MoL-2001-12
Series Name: Master of Logic Thesis (MoL) Series
Year: 2001
Date Deposited: 12 Oct 2016 14:38
Last Modified: 12 Oct 2016 14:38

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